Renewable Energy: Integrating Into The Smart Grid

By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the March 2012 issue of
Today’s Facility Manager

The work of building an effective smart grid infrastructure for energy transmission continues. Numerous stakeholders are researching and developing technologies and standards aimed at bringing the potential benefits of a smart grid to fruition. In this type of energy grid, two-way communication between the equipment used at the utilities and consumer endpoints enable each party to produce and use energy in much more efficient ways.

How renewable energy sources will fit into this puzzle is a current area of focus, and there are challenges to integrating renewables with the existing grid due to its intermittent nature. Since generation from renewable sources can be unpredictable, it becomes difficult to schedule and manage energy generation from traditional sources (e.g., fossil fuels) to compensate. Renewable sources also tend to be geographically concentrated, causing problems related to transmission. One way industry stakeholders are investigating how to address these challenges is through pilot programs that demonstrate real world results.

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) launched nine pilot projects that involve entities using renewable energy in their interaction with smart grid technology. Focusing on microgrid technologies, distributed generation (like on-site facility systems), two-way communications between utility and customer, and demand response, the DOE program aims to reduce peak load demand on distribution feeders in the energy infrastructure by 20% by 2015.

The energy sources being studied by DOE are solar photovoltaics, wind turbines, fuel cells, hydroturbines, and pumped water storage. Several projects involve utilities testing technologies within their service areas, while specific participating facilities include Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, CA and Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, IL.

Meanwhile, many energy service companies are involved in discovering ways renewable energy systems can be successfully integrated into the emerging smart grid. Honeywell Building Solutions, for instance, announced a pilot program this past February with Hawaiian Electric Co. to demonstrate how demand response technology can help integrate more intermittent renewable energy to the electric grid there.

During the two year pilot, Hawaiian Electric will connect with commercial and industrial customers to reduce their need for electricity temporarily. The utility will conduct a test of “fast demand response” (Fast DR) technology, which gives the utility and the facility managers (fms) the tools to reduce demand within 10 minutes after being notified of a pending imbalance between supply and demand. Facilities receive an incentive to participate; when Fast DR events are triggered, the facility receives an additional per kilowatt hour credit.

This pilot is expected to validate the technical design and tariffs for a full-scale demand response program to support Hawaii’s energy goals. Hawaiian Electric, working with the state of Hawaii and the DOE, has set out to reach a 70% clean energy goal by 2030, with at least 40% of its electricity coming from renewable sources and 30% from energy efficiency.

Paul Orzeske, president of Honeywell Building Solutions, says, “Generating ‘negawatts’—or reducing demand—is the cheapest and greenest way to meet electricity needs. This project will validate that demand response can deliver negawatts in an accelerated timeframe. Utilities across the globe have ambitious renewable energy goals, and [this program] will provide a template for solving the challenge of intermittency.”

Through the pilot program, Hawaiian Electric will create direct connections to loads at commercial and industrial facilities. In the first phase, customers will be enrolled and then connected to a regional operating center. If energy demand outpaces supply, the utility will trigger a notice for customers to reduce demand within 10 minutes.

A second phase will involve automated demand response tools, including Akuacom and Tridium technologies. Hawaiian Electric will use Demand Response Automation Server software from Akuacom to manage resources and events. At each facility, a Tridium smart grid controller will poll the software for event signals. When the utility triggers an event, the controller will receive the signal and communicate with a customer’s building management system to execute load shed measures that have been set by the customer (e.g., cycling air conditioners, and turning off non essential lights, pumps, and motors).

As smart grid capabilities continue to be explored, the ability to accommodate ongoing changes in renewable energy generation is one key to putting the puzzle together.

This article was written based on information provided by the U.S. Department of Energy and from Honeywell.